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Biz magazine seeks boost from Recorder: Newspaper's backing should help minority business publication grow

July 2, 2007

Carolene Mays exited the production area of The Indianapolis Recorder after applying her own elbow grease to ensure a new deadline is met and reflected on the increasingly hectic pace engulfing the newspaper.

The publisher of one of the nation's oldest and most prominent black newspapers is used to carrying a heavy load, considering she moonlights part time as a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives.

Yet, she is in uncharted waters as the new owner of Indiana Minority Business Magazine, a 4-year-old publication founded by local entrepreneur Rickie Clark. Clark sold the publication for an undisclosed amount.

"Just watching it come together has been a thrill," Mays said. "[Co-workers] say I've been like an expectant mom."

The first issue of the magazine under Mays' leadership was set to hit newsstands June 29, barely a month after the acquisition closed and just a few weeks before Indiana Black Expo's 37th annual Summer Celebration July 12-22.

Unveiling the new look, which features subtle design changes and more stories, before the largest and longest-running exposition of its kind in the country is critical to building a larger audience. Roughly 35,000 copies paying tribute to the event with a profile of Black Expo from a business perspective will be distributed.

With 88,000 visitors spending $22.3 million, the event is the city's fourth-largest convention, according to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitor's Association.

To officially celebrate IMBM's arrival, Recorder staff will host an invitation-only launch party during the Expo at 7 p.m. July 19 at the Indiana Convention Center.

IMBM caters not only to blacks, but also to the entire minority population, and will include a mix of business and feature stories similar to what might be found in Black Enterprise or Ebony, Mays said. The goal is to capture a diverse audience throughout the state by focusing on many cultures and races.

Under The Recorder's wing, IMBM already has attracted enough advertising to nearly double in size to 92 pages. The magazine is free and produced quarterly. Annual subscriptions are available for $10 to cover postage rates.

Readership is strongest in Indianapolis, Evansville, Muncie and parts of Fort Wayne. Mays will try to increase circulation in those areas, as well as in northwest Indiana, where few distribution sites and advertisers exist, she said.

Gaining the heft to reach a broader audience should sustain the magazine for years to come, said Amos Brown, a manager and talk show host at Radio One Indianapolis.

"I think [Clark] found a niche in media [and] it was something nobody was doing, particularly on a statewide basis," Brown said. "Having the strength of The Recorder, and the prestige and the history that it brings, enhances [the magazine's] image."

To be sure, The Recorder is deploying its reporters and production workers to publish the magazine. The opportunity to write different stories from what might appear in the weekly newspaper and be more creative with the layout appealed to existing staffers, Mays said.

Personnel changes are afoot, though. Clark, the former owner of IMBM, has been hired by Mays and will assume the title of vice president of the newspaper's Indiana minority business division.

In addition, the magazine's top advertising representative and collections and accounting person have been retained by Mays, as well as a graphic artist who is working on contract.

Clark is a former radio personality who once worked for stations owned by Mays Chemical Co. CEO Bill Mays, uncle of Carolene Mays. Mays provided startup funds for IMBM, which spawned from the Indiana Minority Business Directory Clark introduced about 15 years ago. Clark is uncertain whether the directory will continue, but he's excited about the magazine's potential.

He said the publication was profitable, but he sold it to take advantage of the additional resources The Recorder could offer.

"I felt like the magazine needed to be taken to the next level a lot quicker," Clark said. "What better partnership could you have than with a 112-year-old parent?"

The acquisition of IMBM is a major step for a newspaper that not so long ago was losing money and facing an uncertain future. The elder Mays bought The Recorder in 1990, and in the next eight years, it accumulated $250,000 in debt.

Meanwhile, Carolene Mays was enjoying a career at her uncle's company when he walked into her office one Thursday afternoon and asked her to take over the struggling newspaper the following Monday.

After convincing her that the skills she had developed in corporate America would transfer to the publishing industry, Mays delivered. She cut the red ink and brought in a new management team to get the paper almost entirely out of debt a year after she became publisher. Mays since has raised employee salaries, increased benefits, and implemented content changes that have helped boost weekly circulation from a paltry 2,000 to 22,000.

Revenue last year hit $1.4 million. Mays, though, foresees the figure doubling in the next few years, thanks largely to the IMBM purchase and possibly others. Neither Mays has ruled out future acquisitions.

"A lot of newspapers are in trouble, and black newspapers particularly are ripe for a roll-up," Bill Mays said. "The Recorder is an exception because we have the privilege of no debt; I paid for it when I bought it. But that call will be made by Carolene."

The remaining issues of the magazine this year will be published Sept. 28 and Dec. 28.
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